Archive for the ‘Colloquia’ Category

Colloquium Today (4/18) at 3:30: Mascaró

Joan Mascaró (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) will present a colloquium today at 3:30 PM in the Greenberg Room. Abstract given below.


Abstract: There are cases in which the phonetic shape of a morpheme cannot be derived from a single lexical form by phonological processes but has nonetheless a phonological conditioning. These cases pose a problem for theories for which allomorphic choice has to take place at lexical insertion, where the expression of phonological regularities is not available. A minimal natural extension of Optimality Theory gives an immediate phonological explanation to such cases by allowing allomorph selection to take place via evaluation of candidates in the phonology. I will examine some simple illustrative examples and then I will move to more intrincate cases, in particular prenominal determiner and adjective selection in Northwestern Central Catalan which depends on morphological, phonological and syntactic factors. I will also examine alternative proposals, in particular those claiming that all allomorphy is done through subcategorization frames.

All are welcome! Dinner will be served following the colloquium.

Colloquium Today (4/11) at 3:30: Gal

Susan Gal (University of Chicago) will present a colloquium at 3:30 today in the Greenberg Room, with a social and dinner following.

Plain and Fancy: The Role of Qualities in the Analysis of Linguistic Variation

Abstract: Indexicality has been a key analytical term in the understanding of variation. Instead of correlations between co-occurring features and social categories, we now search for the way culturally-formulated identities are linguistically indexed or invoked. The concepts of style and indexicality have been important and productive analytical tools in the exploration of how social meaning is achieved. But some puzzles remain. How and why do people invariably attribute sensual qualities to the variants they recognize, and actually come to hear linguistic forms as being: plain or fancy, thin or thick, big or small, oily or plain, flat or curvy, good or bad? How come such qualities come in pairs? Why are matters of language apprehended in terms more suited to objects (e.g. flat, thick, oily)? This paper examines the construction of such sensuous metaphors for linguistic form and the arrangement of linguistic varieties on qualitative axes of differentiation. It suggests that speakers rely on specific cultural frameworks and a limited set of semiotic principles to recognize, produce and sometimes transform the qualities attributed to linguistic variants, to speakers themselves, and to an array of other, closely related expressive forms: sartorial and bodily signs; interactional “manner” and comportment. The paper presents ethnographic and linguistic evidence from German-Hungarian bilinguals in Hungary and from observations about English made by travelers in the United States in the early 19th century.

Colloquium Today (4/4) at 3:30 PM: Tonhauser

Judith Tonhauser (OSU Linguistics/Stanford CASBS) will give a colloquium today, Friday April 4 at 3:30 PM in the Greenberg Room, with dinner to follow.

What it means to be alone: The role of the Question under Discussion in the Interpretation of Paraguayan Guaraní exclusives

Abstract: A fundamental principle in research on meaning is that the meaning of an utterance is determined as a function of the meaning of its parts, the way the parts are put together and the context in which the utterance is made. Over the past thirty or so years, formal research on meaning has identified several different ways in which context affects interpretation and that, in fact, context-dependence may be built into the lexical meanings of natural language expressions. In this talk, I illustrate the context-dependence of utterance meanings by exploring the interpretation of Paraguayan Guaraní utterances with the exclusive enclitics “=nte” ‘only’ and “=año” ‘alone’ and I argue that the interpretation of utterances with “=año” ‘alone’ depends on context in a way not previously recognized for exclusives in other languages. In particular, I argue that the Question under Discussion not only serves to constrain the associate of the exclusive (Beaver & Clark 2008, Roberts 2011) or to impose conditions on the acceptability of the exclusive (Coppock & Beaver in press), but also contributes to the identification of the property that is exclusively attributed to the associate. As a consequence, utterances with “=año” ‘alone’ can convey a broader range of meanings than e.g. those with English “alone”.

Colloquium Today (2/7) at 3:30 PM: Harizanov

Boris Harizanov (UC Santa Cruz) will give a colloquium today, Friday February 7 at 3:30PM in the Greenberg Room. A departmental social will follow.

On the mapping from syntax to morphophonology

Abstract: What are the atoms of syntax and how do they correspond to words? In this talk I address this question by documenting a certain kind of mismatch between the set of objects that syntax manipulates and morphophonological words. In particular, I provide novel empirical evidence from Bulgarian denominal adjectives that certain parts of words can behave syntactically as (non-branching) phrases. The nominal component of these denominal adjectives is syntactically active in ways expected of typical nominal phrases with respect to their thematic interpretation, anaphoric properties, and interaction with syntactic movement dependencies.However, these denominal adjectives exhibit a number of adjectival characteristics as well. I attribute this kind of mismatch to the application of Morphological Merger (cf. Marantz 1981), an operation that is part of the mapping procedure from syntax to morphophonology. Consequently, I treat denominal adjectives as underlying nominal phrases that are converted into adjectives by Morphological Merger in the course of the derivation, as part of the word formation process which combines a nominal phrase with adjectivizing derivational morphology.

This approach results in the syntactic decomposition of morphophonological words, which leads to a syntactic treatment of at least some aspects of word formation: syntactic objects realized as parts of words and those realized as autonomous words do not necessarily differ for the purposes of syntax. The present investigation contributes to a long line of research on what have traditionally been viewed as mechanisms of syntactic word formation, such as head-to-head movement (Baker 1985, 1988) and merger under adjacency (Marantz 1981, 1988).

Myler Colloquium Tuesday, (2/11) at Noon

In addition to the seminar Monday, please note the following colloquium from Neil Myler (NYU) on Tuesday, February 11 at noon in the Greenberg Room:

Predicative Possession and the Theory of Argument Structure

Abstract: Predicative possession constructions show a bewildering amount of surface variation in their syntax cross-linguistically, which at first sight is hard to reconcile with the idea that there is a constrained relationship between semantics and syntax in the domain of argument structure. In this talk, I will argue that predicative possession can be assimilated into a constrained theory of argument structure that makes room for certain basic insights. These insights, which can be encoded in a variety of different frameworks, are:

a. Possession relations found in HAVE and BE sentences are fundamentally a relationship between two DPs- that is, these relations are not contributed by a verb root, but are rather associated with DP-internal functional heads.

b. Because of this, in order to form a possession sentence (thereby linking a possession relation to tense, clause type, etc.) a “dummy verb” (a copula) must be brought in.

c. (i) Natural Language allows a number of different ways of bringing in such a verb, which has the consequence that possession constructions can vary in the place in the structure where the possessor is introduced.

(ii) The different ways of building possession sentences entailed by (i) could have somewhat different (albeit overlapping) meanings, depending on the semantic contributions of the pieces that make them up.

I will concentrate on motivating the claims under (c), giving two existence proofs (from novel fieldwork on two closely-related Quechua dialects) that these claims must be embraced.

Colloquium Tuesday, Feb. 4 at Noon: Pavel Caha

Pavel Caha (CASTL, University of Tromsø) will give a colloquium this Tuesday, Feb. 4 at noon in the Greenberg Room.

Semi-lexical Categories Revisited

Abstract: It is standardly assumed that an item cannot simultaneously belong to two syntactic categories at the same time. Something either is – or is not – a noun/a preposition/a numeral/… The ‘single category view’ plausibly reflects the common understanding that lexical items occupy the terminals of the syntactic tree, and that the terminals of the syntactic tree have a unique label (X or Y, but not both). However, there are reasons to believe that such a view does not do justice to all the complexities of the categorization problem.

To illustrate that, I revisit some traditional observations (going back at least to Ross’ work from the early seventies) that many items stand somewhere in between the traditional (and prototypical) linguistic categories. The particular cases I will consider correspond to Luganda/Czech analogues of examples such as: in FRONT of the car (P) vs. the FRONT of the car (N); HUNDRED cars (Num) vs. HUNDREDs of cars (N). Such items have been sometimes called ‘semi-lexical’ categories (see in particular van Riemsdijk 1998).

However, the ‘items as terminals’ view has alternatives. In a theory like Nanosyntax (Caha 2009, Starke 2009), lexical items may correspond to a whole set of terminals provided that they form a constituent. If that is so, semi-lexical categories may be understood as items whose lexical specification corresponds to a complex syntactic tree containing (by definition) several terminals with distinct category labels (e.g., [ X [ Y ]]). I argue that if this view is adopted, some curious properties of the data receive an accurate and neat explanation.

Colloquium Today (Friday, Jan. 24), 3:30 PM: Peter Graff

Peter Graff (Intel Corporation) will give a colloquium today (Friday Jan. 24) at 3:30 PM in the Greenberg Room, followed by a departmental social.


Abstract: In this talk, I present novel typological and behavioral evidence suggesting that phonological patterns derive from communicative efficiency: The cross-linguistic patterning of sounds and words as well as the ways in which speakers produce them are geared towards achieving a high rate of information transmission given the effort invested by the speaker (Lindblom, 1990; Flemming 1995).

First, I show for the first time that the relative occurrence frequencies of different sounds in 60 languages from 25 major language families may be understood in terms of communicative efficiency. Building on well-known findings about the relative perceptibility of voicing contrasts in different contexts (Raphael, 1981), differences in the effort involved in articulating different voiced stops (Ohala & Riordan, 1979), and information theory in the sense of Shannon (1948), I derive a measure of communicative efficiency for frequency distributions over voiced and voiceless stops in context. I show that the efficiency of natural language frequency distributions over those categories is significantly greater than expected from chance.

Next, I present evidence that redundancy in the lexicon is not randomly distributed, but instead exists to supplement distinctions between meaningful linguistic units that are hard to perceive. Specifically, I show that the number of words disambiguated solely by a given contrast (i.e., minimal pairs) decreases as a function of the perceptibility of that contrast, beyond what is expected from the probabilistic patterning of the contrasting sounds. The lexicon as a whole is thus organized in ways that minimize the confusability of words given the effort invested in their production.

Finally, I present behavioral evidence suggesting that language production at the sound level seeks to maximize the rate of information transmission and minimize speaker effort (cf Aylett & Turk, 2004). I report on a phonetic corpus study of F2-transitions into stops and stop burst durations showing that these acoustic cues to place of articulation stand in a probabilistic trade-off relation. When stop bursts are long, F2-transitions are correspondingly small, while when stop bursts are short, F2-transitions are correspondingly large. This trade-off is expected if the articulatory effort invested in the production of the burst is reduced where formant transitions convey sufficient information for the listener to recover the place of a stop.

Taken together, these results suggest that communicative efficiency shapes human language phonology, the lexicon, and the ways in which humans use sounds and words to communicate intended meanings.

Dinner will be served following the colloquium.